Posted by: Marie | February 11, 2011

(513) Music Lesson: Notes and keys

Post #513

Music Lesson

I have decided to occasionally include posts on music and playing the piano and music theory . . . as in mini-educational blurbs. If you don’t care about this stuff, just skip over the posts. If you do, then read away . . .

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As I said in my first “music lesson” post, whenever I get a new student, I review with the student (and/or the parent) the three foundational concepts – and the relationships among those three concepts – on which a person’s piano-playing education is built (see first diagram).

So . . . today . . . let’s look at another side of this triangle . . . the relationship between the keys on the keyboard and the notes on the grand staff.

Music in printed form that has been written for the piano uses a geometrical structure called a “grand staff” (see the second diagram). The grand staff has an upper “staff” (a set of five horizontal lines) on which notes (ovals with stems) are placed. The notes in the upper staff are to be played with the right hand. The grand staff also has a lower staff on which notes that are to be played with the left hand are placed. The two staffs (also called “staves” when plural) are joined by a set of vertical lines and brackets.

Grand Staff with order notes are to be played

Grand Staff with order notes are to be played

Notes are placed in particular places on the grand staff to indicate particular keys on the keyboard and to indicate in what order they are to be played. The horizontal (side-to-side) orientation of a note on the grand staff shows the order in which notes are to be played. Just as in literature, we read from left to right – in other words, the notes are to be played in order from left to right. Both staves are read at the same time, which means a note’s placement on the upper staff or the lower staff has no bearing on the order in which the notes are played.

If two note heads (the oval part) share a stem, they are to be played at the same time by the same hand. If notes in the lower staff are directly below notes in the upper staff, all of those notes (those in the upper staff and those in the lower staff) would be played at the same time. The second diagram shows an example of a piece of music in which the notes are numbered in the order they would be played.

The vertical (up-and-down) orientation of a note on the grand staff indicates the note’s association with a particular key on the keyboard. To better explain this, let’s give each line in the grand staff a number (see third diagram). You can see there are five lines in each staff, plus there is one very wobbly “invisible” line in the window where the words (lyrics) to the song would go (assuming the song has lyrics).

Grand staff lines

Grand staff lines

Consider yourself lucky if you happen to have a stash of those small self-stick notes called “flags” – they are just about the perfect size to place on the keyboard to mark the keys that are associated with the eleven aforementioned lines. (But don’t use the self-adhesive stickers like foil stars and cute flowers because you won’t be able to get those off the keys.)

So, let’s assume you do have some of those flags lying around. You could place one of the flags on Middle C. (For a refresher on how to find Middle C, go back to the previous music lesson post.) Then, you could write the number “1” on one of the flags, a number “2” on another . . . and repeat until you have five of them. Then, do it again so you have two sets of flags numbered 1-5.

Flag stickers on the keyboard

Flag stickers on the keyboard

Study the fourth diagram to determine where the numbered flags would go – you can click on the diagram to get a larger view of it. The keys with stickers that are to the right of Middle C are associated with notes on the lines of the upper staff of the grand staff. The keys with stickers that are to the left of Middle C are associated with notes on the lines of the lower staff of the grand staff. The Middle C key is associated with notes appearing in the window where the words go – specifically, notes that are on the wobbly, invisible line.

You may notice there are keys on the keyboard that are without stickers mixed in with the keys with stickers. I’m glad you noticed! There are ten of those “no sticker” keys and they are known as “space notes” because they occupy the spaces between the lines on the grand staff.

The Grand Staff

The Grand Staff

In other words, when we talk about a note being “on a line”, we are saying that the line runs through the middle of the note. When we talk about a note being “in a space”, we are saying that the note occupies the space in between two lines. Check out the fifth diagram to better understand the difference between line notes and space notes.

The sixth diagram shows the relationship between space notes and their associated keys. If a note occupies the space between the first and second lines, that note is said to be in the first space. The key associated with the note in the first space is positioned between the key with the “1” sticker and the key with the “2” sticker.

So, to find the key associated with a note in the fourth space (for example), find the key associated with the fourth line (that key will have a sticker “4” on it) and then move to the right one key. Just make sure that you associate the notes in the upper staff with the keys to the right of Middle C, and that you associate the notes in the lower staff with the keys to the left of Middle C.

Grand staff spaces

This seems like a good time to give you the name of the two staves . . . the upper staff is called the “treble clef” and the lower staff is called the “bass clef”. Interestingly enough, the word bass in this context is pronounced like “base” in baseball and not like “bass” as in a bass fisherman.

One last point . . . there are two space notes that break the rules concerning placement on the grand staff. These are the two notes (B and D) that are on either side of Middle C. They live in the “window where the words go” along with Middle C (see the seventh and final diagram). The space note associated with the D sits high in the window and will never have a line going through the middle of it. The space note associated with the B sits low in the window and will never have a line going through the middle of it.

Notes in the window

Notes in the window

On the other hand, the Middle C note can sit high or low in the window – low if the left hand is supposed to play it and high if the right hand is supposed to play it – and the note will always have a short line going through the middle of it. The short line (known as a leger line) marks where the invisible line would be situated if it were visible. Since Middle C and its leger line can appear high or low in the window, it seems that the invisible line is very wobbly. But, regardless if the line is meandering high in the window or low in the window, it is still the one and only line that exists in the window.

And that brings us to the end of today’s music lesson! I hope you learned something new!


Responses

  1. What music program did you use to create this image? https://mmaaggnnaa.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/grand-staff-note-order2.jpg

    • I used Microsoft Visio, which is not a music software, it is a graphics software . . .


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